The Mélange is a competition pitting chefs’ creations against one another in categories such as salad, seafood, beef, and dessert. Each dish is judged based predominately on presentation and taste. However, factors such as practicality — winning dishes must be served on restaurant menus for at least a month — and creativity also are considered.
But beyond the judging room, the throngs of curious eaters may choose to sample the smorgasboard of culinary fare. The tastes are unlimited until the food runs out. And samples of beer, wine and coffee are included in the $40 price. Not a bad deal. It’s why Mélange, organized by the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, has become such a popular event.
“We have more entries than we’ve ever had before,” said CeCe Hipps, the chamber’s executive director.
Returning to the competition will be chef Doug Weaver, former owner of Wildfire Fine Food and Drink in Waynesville. Wildfire closed and Weaver is opening a new restaurant called Sweet Onion around the corner in the Morris Compounding Pharmacy building. The new menu will be a country/Asian mix — think fried chicken and ahi tuna.
“It’s a little all over the place,” Weaver said. “I’ve stopped trying to describe it. When I try to describe it people give me a funny look.”
Weaver, who has taken top honors at the previous to Mélange competitions, said he has been spending his time picking out paint samples and furniture for the new restaurant. Sweet Onion is set to open in five weeks and it has been the priority.
“Because we don’t have a kitchen, we really don’t have all that much stuff,” Weaver said.
He’s planning to enter a soup and a dessert, but “besides that I don’t think we’re going to do much more.”
But Weaver isn’t in it just to win anyway. He doesn’t think of the Mélange as a competition. Rather it’s a way to support the community, help spread the word about his restaurant, and perhaps attract some attention for the local restaurant industry.
A newcomer to the competition is chef Paul Meyer of The Oaks Restaurant in Whittier. Meyer will be entering the salad, soup, seafood and fowl categories.
“I’m excited but nervous at the same time,” Meyer said.
The hardest part of the competition is that the chefs are not cooking in their own kitchens. And while making food ahead of time might be easier in some ways, keeping it fresh and hot to serve to judges would be a challenge. Consequently, part of the competition is choosing what can be brought and what must be made on site
“We’ll be cooking most of the judges food right there on the spot,” Meyer said.
There’s also the challenge of presenting the dishes to the public. At least one of Meyer’s dishes, a southern seafood benedict, will have to be modified. The judges’ plate will feature a poached egg. But making 300 or so poached eggs on demand is a little much.
Meyers also will be entering a roasted vegetable soup, a summer salad with blood orange glazed duck, and a spin on the traditional for dessert.
“A rice pudding for dessert – but it’s real different,” Meyer said.
The pudding will feature sweetened coconut with a peach coulee.
In order to accommodate the number of anticipated guests, organizers have rented vans to assist in transporting guests from the Balsam Mountain Inn’s lower parking lot to the entrance. Also, there will be a tent and tables outside this year for guests to enjoy their samples.
Tickets to the Mélange are $40 ($35 for Chamber of Commerce members) and may be purchased by calling 828.456.3021.